This one time, while traveling….

signing my name for the futureLast weekend I met some old friends from college I haven’t seen since graduation. They wanted to know one thing about my travels: “What were my crazy stories? What were the wild things that have happened to me?” I don’t often think about the crazy things that happen while I’m traveling. To me, they are just part of the whole travel experience- stories no good or worse than all the rest. Even the bad is still good. Yet forced to think about it, I’ve realized a lot of random, crazy, and interesting things have happened to me over the last 4 years, highlights of which include:

I got lost in the jungle. While taking a trip to Costa Rica, my friends and I ended up reading the map wrong and wandered lost around Arenal National Park without a flashlight, food or water. What was supposed to be a quick trip to see the sunset turned out to be a 5 hour ordeal. As night came, we used our cameras as flashlights and tried to follow our tracks back. We eventually found a road, flagged down a car, and bribed him to take us back to the town.

Also, my bus broke down in the outback. While traveling in Western Australia, our tour bus broke down in the middle of the outback right after we had lost cell phone reception. We waited 3 hours for a car to take our driver to the nearest town and 2 more for the tow truck. It was a great time though- we drank our beer, played trivia games, and worked on our tan. It was a bonding experience.

My dive partner kicked out my regulator. While learning to scuba dive, my partner accidentally kicked my regulator out of my mouth 15 meters below water. Luckily, I remembered to breathe out and grab my regulator. Within seconds my instructor was assisting me but it was a scary experience and it took me about 10 minutes and half the oxygen tank to calm down. I never breathed so deep in my life.

I almost got in a fight with an Amsterdam cab driver. Coming back from the Amsterdam casino, I split a cab with two Russians who were heading in the same direction. I got out first and paid my portion of the cab fare to them. The driver wanted me to pay the whole fare. No way, I replied, we are splitting it. This is what I owe and I got out. The Russians were fine with that and took my money but the cab driver was not. He got out too and decided he wanted something of this. I stood my ground, the Russians wide eyed in the car, and the driver threatening me. Seeing his scare tactics weren’t going to work, he yelled at me in Turkish, got back in the cab, and drove off.

I permanently scarred a friend. Years ago at a beach party in Thailand, my friend (who’s the size of a small truck) and I (not the size of any truck) decided we should film ourselves where I beat him wrestling. Running into frame, I tackle him and we wrestle for a bit. A friend from my guesthouse runs over and breaks it up. “Dude, what are you doing? He’s huge!” “Don’t worry- we’re friends.” I replied. At that time, I noticed my friend was bleeding. Apparently, I tackled him onto a few beer bottles and sliced his arm open. Rushing him to the hospital, we got him stitched up but to this day he has 3 large scars covering most of his left arm. I guess I don’t know my own strength.

I fell into the ocean. Back in 2006 when I was in Italy, I was taking some photos of the Cinque Terra. I was trying to get a good angle and crept down this boat ramp. Well, I missed the algae growing on the ramp, slipped (flip flops don’t give you good traction), and slid down the boat ramp into the water. While I was completely soaked, the worst part was breaking the camera I had bought 2 months before I went on my trip. That and the Italian kids who witnessed this whole scene laughing at me.

Thai police officers got me drunk. On multiple occasions. One of my favorite streets in Thailand is Soi 11 and at the beginning of the street is a food stall where every night these cops drink. One night they called me over after I finished my soup and offered me some whiskey. You don’t say no to cops in Thailand so I drank. And drank. And drank some more. After that, every time I walked by, we would drink and eat. I would teach them English, they taught me bad words in Thai. It was a great experience.

Speaking of Thailand, I got drugged there once. For my last night in Thailand in 2007, my friend Dan and I went out for a few drinks. We started with our customary red bull and vodka. After that, I don’t know what happened. The next thing I remember is waking up on Dan’s couch the following morning. Knocking on Dan’s door, he opens it and goes “What are you doing here?” We had no memory of the previous night but I still had my ID and all my money. Whoever drugged us did a poor job of doing so but I make it a point to watch all my drinks being made now.

Two M87 grenades blew up near me. A few months ago, Thailand had political unrest that led to a multi-day street battle in Bangkok. Much of the city center was set on fire. I got out weeks before that but before I did, while eating dinner in the Silom area, 2 M87 grenades went off right near me. It’s the closest I ever plan to get near anything like that again.

I was hospitalized for food poisoning. While in Central America, I ate some bad sushi and upon returning home to the United States, found out that I had a parasite that had inflamed my intestine so much it was effectively closed. I was in the hospital for 3 days on a morphine drip. When I got out, I was so skinny, my girlfriend at the time told me I looked like Skeletor.

Traveling is about taking the good with the bad. On the surface these stores might make you wonder why I would go back to these places, not get scared away, or continued on a journey. It’s because the unexpected makes life interesting. Nothing is risk free and each of these stories led to an opportunity or bond that wouldn’t have occurred otherwise.

  1. It is funny how you do almost forget the crazy travel stories. When you travel constantly weird things happen so often that it becomes normal.

  2. I didn’t want this post to end!!! I love reading stories like this, because it reminds me of my own crazy mid/adventures around the world. They might be a bit intense while you’re going through them, but afterwards they totally enrich your life.

  3. HaHa – great post Matt! One of the craziest things I ever did was eat a space cake in Guatemala. It was a LONG day & night and didn’t go as well as it should have to say the least. I got lost in a bathroom and started screaming hysterically when the light went out (yes, i’m serious and to my defense it was a creepy tin bathroom full of outdoor equipment, including a chainsaw & ax that I saw on the way I in – thought I was in a horror movie), bitten by a crazy ant, kicked out of 2 bars, then peed in the corner of my room because I couldn’t find my way out (turns out the door had no knob, didn’t notice that before), dragged around said pee soaked towel and attempted to wash it until I realized how gross the whole situation was. Unfortunately I was also renting a room for $5 in someone’s house and I still feel bad about dragging it around…ewww! I was high for 24 hrs. It was horrible. Wouldn’t recommend Guatemalan space cakes to anyone!

  4. nance carter

    it was fun reading this. i’ve seen getting lost in the jungle on I Shouldn’t Be Alive. Good thing your story was not like theirs. This is why i love traveling – you never know what kind of crazy thing is going to happen. great read.

  5. Paula

    I don’t know if you’d call this experience crazy or just plain amazing…I was in Maui one Christmas on my own, so when I woke up early I decided to go for a snorkel to beat the crowds. I found this little rocky inlet where there wasn’t a soul in sight from one end of the beach to the other.

    So I plunged into the water and swam out to the cove. I’m a bit of a chicken snorkeler and not a great swimmer so I prefered to stay close to the surface. I put on my mask, bellied down and floated. Soon I noticed that I wasn’t alone…A giant turtle was swimming towards me, nose to nose. I froze. He dove below me and swam around, his curiosity as strong as my own, as I remained totally still. Through the sunlit beams cutting through the water I saw that he wasn’t the only one, soon there was me and six or seven gorgeous giant turtles enjoying the peace of the shallow cove.

    I didn’t know if I was safe or in danger but at that moment I didn’t care, My fear gave way to wonder and a deep appreciation for this beautiful old creatures who swam around me and under me at a safe distance. I was in awe. The enchantment was shattered when other snorkelers entered the bay and came out to join us. My turtle friends shuffled away from the noisy humans and I soon did the same.

    That was a crazy but magical memory that I will never forget!

  6. Haha, great experiences! I guess some of them were not fun at all when you experienced it, but they made great traveling memory :) That cab driver in Amsterdam is very weird. Seems like he didn’t accept the idea of splitting taxi. If you want to pay full, wy don’t just grab your own taxi instead of splitting with other guys.

  7. Hi Matt, Liked this post – good memories when things go a little bit wrong… for me being caught up in a protest riot in Athens, having a train break down in the middle of Italy, being drugged in Aswan, Egypt (but like you making it home fine),airline fuel shortags in South Africa…etc Love it!

  8. What fun and crazy stories! It’s great that you just roll with the punches and look at all of it as just a part of the travel experience. That’s really scary about the bombs. I have a friend who recently told me he almost died of a bombing in Istanbul (he didn’t tell me until right when I returned from the trip…turns out I was in the same building where he was when it happened). That kind of thing can really happen anywhere, though. How funny about getting drunk with Thai police!

  9. Like you said, stories like these make travel what it is; ultimately, it’s all part of the experience. But it’s nice that you haven’t let the bad scare you away from the good!

  10. Hey I loved this article and reminded of my time in Asia, we had a friend who was also drugged in Bangkok although he didn’t handle it quite so well and totally freaked out! I also had my fair share of weird experiences in Thailand including a crazy teenage bus driver who very nearly ploughed our speeding coach into an oncoming truck.

    The scariest though was probably when our passenger boat sailing from Koh Tao to Koh Phangan nearly tipped over in a storm and some of the windows even got smashed in from the waves crashing through. Everyone on the boat was convinced they weren’t getting off alive and it was probably the most frightening two hours of my life. Still love the place though (against all the odds!)

  11. Anne

    haha! These are great… and I actually just came a website where these kind of stories will win you prizes like a $10,000 vacation… :-) Check that page out for more hilarious unlucky travel stories. I think you can win just by voting too!

  12. LOL great list, if I wasn’t worried about scaring my family to death I would post some of mine. Sometimes the best adventure stories are when you are done and re-telling them to friends, not when it’s happening!!

  13. Some of these are quite scary, glad they turned out ok (especially the “drugged and can’t remember”-night), nevertheless is great to read such a fun list of things. It’s always the things you don’t plan that turn out the coolest 😉

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